Le'Veon Bell has carried the Spartans to a 3-1 record heading into a big contest against Ohio State.
Michigan State faces its third ranked opponent in five weeks Saturday, and these five Spartans will play a big role in securing an upset win over Ohio State. No. 20 Michigan State hosts No. 14 Ohio State in a huge Big Ten contest with title-game implications.
The Spartans are coming off an ugly contest against Eastern Michigan. MSU managed to squeak out a 23-7 lead, but EMU had a 6-3 lead at halftime.
Michigan State is 3-1 and starts Big Ten play in control of its own destiny. A 20-3 loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago was disheartening, but it hasn’t ended hopes of a Big 10 championship in East Lansing.
Ohio State doesn’t have any championship dreams due to the NCAA sanctions on the program, but wins against MSU are big, no matter the circumstance. The Buckeyes are the only undefeated team in the Leaders Division (4-0).
OSU has been inconsistent at best this season. A dominating win over Miami (Ohio) in the season opener has given way to close contests with winless UAB and a 1-3 California team.
The Buckeyes head to hostile territory for the first time this season to face a stingy MSU defense. Michigan State is a three-point favorite, and a win sits squarely on the shoulders of these five Spartans.
Andrew Maxwell has three touchdowns and three INTs this season.
Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell has struggled this season, but it isn’t entirely his fault. His receivers have dropped passes, run wrong or sloppy routes and made Saturdays a headache for him. Still, Maxwell is completing 56.6 percent of his passes with only three touchdowns and three interceptions.
What has become a pedestrian performance for Maxwell won’t be good enough against Ohio State. His 110.4 passer rating is 114th in the FBS.
Maxwell’s best game came against Central Michigan in Week 2. He went 20-of-31 for 275 yards and two TDs.
The Midland, Mich., product has been unimpressive in big games this season. The opener against Boise State and two weeks ago against Notre Dame showed the offense has a lot to work on. Maxwell went a combined 38-of-67 with three interceptions.
He has a favorable matchup against an Ohio State secondary that is 104th in the FBS in pass defense (277.2 YPG), according to NCAA.com. The junior needs to put up some points through the air to take pressure off the defense and rushing game.
Head coach Mark Dantonio (shown) and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi have their hands full planning for Braxton Miller.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is in his sixth year at the helm of one of the Big Ten’s best defenses. The defense has been solid this season, ranked 11th in the FBS in scoring defense (11.75 points per game).
He will need to come up with an effective game plan to slow down quarterback Braxton Miller and the Ohio State offense. The MSU defense gave Miller fits last season as a freshman.
The Spartans sacked him nine times and gave up just 56 passing yards on five completions. Miller has made some improvements this season and should put up bigger numbers in his second go-around.
The defense will be energized even more by playing in front of the home crowd. Narduzzi will need to develop a strong game plan that puts playmakers in the right places at the right time.
It will be an emotional game―as it always is with these two programs. Avoiding the big play will be crucial as Ohio State has struggled to maintain consistent offensive production this season.
Max Bullough is the team's leading tackler and should have a big role Saturday.
Junior linebacker Max Bullough has been a force for the Spartan defense so far this season. Through four games, Bullough has a team-high 26 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss.
He will need to anchor the defense that faces a tough quarterback in Braxton Miller. The Big Ten seems to love dual-threat quarterbacks with Miller and Michigan’s Denard Robinson. MSU is hoping to contain the sophomore like it did last season for a 10-7 win.
Miller has accounted for 298.8 yards of total offense per game, second to only Robinson. Miller can run and throw, and he will be a handful for the Spartan defense.
That’s where Bullough comes in. He could be in charge of containing the versatile QB. If that’s the case, his effectiveness will play a big role in the Spartans' success on Saturday.
The big defensive end William Gholston will need to pressure OSU QB Braxton Miller.
Michigan State’s talented defensive line has underachieved this season, producing just three sacks in the first four games. With a mobile quarterback in Miller, the defensive line will have to play assignment sound for four quarters.
Look to junior defensive end William Gholston to have a big day against the Buckeyes. Gholston is 6’7” and 278 pounds. He is a force on the defensive front.
The junior is sixth on the team in total tackles with 14. Last season against OSU, Gholston had one sack and three tackles for loss. Expect the big end to disrupt the OSU offensive flow a time or two.
This will all depend on Narduzzi’s game plan against the Buckeye offense. If given the opportunity, Gholston should perform at a high level on Saturday.
Sims is having a career year. Is he in line for another career day against OSU?
Everyone knows the Spartan offense runs through junior RB Le’Veon Bell. He should carry the typical load against Ohio State―maybe even a bit bigger role since Bell is from Columbus. Often overlooked in the success of the run game is the tight end.
Junior Dion Sims has been a reliable well-rounded TE for the Spartans this season. As the reigning John Mackey Tight End of the Week, Sims is coming off a dominant performance against Eastern Michigan. He had six catches for his first career 100-plus-yard game. He also had a crucial touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
Sims is having a career year already. Through four games, he has 22 catches for 277 yards. Both numbers are career-highs. His first year as the starting TE is headed in the right direction.
With the uncertainty of the receivers, Maxwell should enjoy having this reliable option in the pass game. The struggling OSU secondary could give way to another big day for Sims.
A solid performance from the junior will give Maxwell some confidence and keep a little pressure off the Spartan run game. Expect Sims to have a big role in college football’s premier matchup this week.